10 Songs That Led Me to Feminism

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by Veronica Hilbring

I am a feminist. Not afraid to say so either. I feel like I was raised a feminist. Not necessarily by my mother but by the women who created the soundtrack to my life. From the awesomeness of the original Queen, Ms. Latifah to recent declaration from Queen Bey, women musicians have lead me here.

Here are the 10 songs that shaped my feminism:

No Doubt- Just A Girl
You ever been a black girl that loves rock music growing up on the Southside of Chicago? Life for us wasn’t no crystal stair. But when I saw Queen Gwen (yes Queen) doing push-ups in the ultra-chic bathroom in the Just A Girl video, I knew she was speaking to all of us girls.

Lyrics like “From the moment that I step outside, so many reasons for me to run and hide…I can’t do the little things I hold so dear...”

Truth bomb.

To this day, Gwen remains one of the GOATS.

Queen Latifah- U.N.I.T.Y
This is literally in my top 5 favorite songs of all time. Probably the most impactful song from a female emcee in my lifetime, U.N.I.T.Y is the perfect blend of lessons from your big sister. In just over 3 minutes, Latifah touched on street harassment, domestic violence and self-worth. Sadly, I can’t imagine a female rapper releasing a song like this today with this type of impact.

“You say I’m nothing without ya,
well I’m nothing with you.
A man don’t really love you if he hits you...”

All hail the Queen.

Salt N’ Pepa- Ain’t Nuthin But A She Thing
Salt N’ Pepa were quite possibly my main inspiration for feminism. They were on the front lines early encouraging safe sex with songs like “Let’s Talk About Sex.” They touched on issues that still affect us today.

“Got to break my neck just to get my respect

Go to work and get paid less than a man

When I'm doin' the same damn thing that he can”

This was back in 1993. As we continue to fight for equal pay in 2014, we would be remiss if didn’t pay homage to the great Salt N’ Pepa.

Beyoncé- Run the World (Girls)
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a Bey stan. Judge me if you must. But since she has grown into a self-proclaimed feminist, I’ve been able to enjoy her latest music. She kicked off her foray into feminism with the first single off her 2011 4 album with Girls (Run the world).

“Boy I know you love it
How we're smart enough to make these millions
Strong enough to bear the children
Then get back to business”

Tell em’ B!

Janet Jackson- Control
One of my favorite things to say is that I’ve been a feminist since Janet Jackson dropped the original Control verse and it’s true. Released in 1986, Janet Jackson was taking control of her career from her infamous father Joe Jackson and unintentionally influencing a generation of young girls to come.

“Got my own mind
I wanna make my own decisions
When it has to do with my life, my life
I wanna be the one in control”

Although the mainstream media wants to erase forget Janet’s legacy, we all know that there would be none of these new millennium artists without Ms. Jackson. Don’t you dare call her baby either.

Mary J Blige- Take Me As I Am
Let me say that there are so many Mary J Blige songs that have impacted my life that I really didn’t know where to start. To many of us, she has been that sister girl that’s been through some things but always manages to land on her feet. But it wasn’t until 2005’s The Breakthrough album that Mary fully embraced herself, flaws and all.

“You know I've been holdin on.
Try to make me weak,
But I still stay strong.”

Special shout-out to Keri Hilson for helping write this song.

Spice Girls- Wannabe
Everybody had the Spice Girl that they loved the most and patterned themselves to be like. I was Sporty Spice. From the moment they hopped off that bus in the Wannabe be video and told us to tell them what we want, what we really, really want, I was a fan. A super fan. The Spice Girls literally shouted “Girl

Power” from the rooftops and demanded that you respect them as songwriters and artists.

Girl Power was dealt a fatal blow when Geri left the group in 1998, but true fans stuck with them until their eventual break-up in 2000.

Alicia Keys- A Woman’s Worth
Years before every gossip blog post was filled with comments calling Alicia everything from a hoe to a home wrecker, she came right out the gate on her first album exploring how to engage in healthy relationships with men. Her second single eloquently states how women should expect to be treated by a man.

“You could buy me diamonds,
you could buy me pearls, take me on a cruise around the world,
baby you know I’m worth it…”


Alicia continued with her feminist anthems like Superwoman and Girl On Fire but y’all don’t hear her though.

Lauryn Hill- Doo Wop (That Thing)
This entire first verse is like lessons from your big sister telling you about the boys in the neighborhood. She effectively gives you sound advice with a nice dose of tough love.

“Girlfriend, let me break it down for you again
You know I only say it 'cause I'm truly genuine
Don't be a hard rock when you're really a gem”

Respect is definitely just the minimum.

En Vogue – Free Your Mind
This song literally addresses prejudice faced by black women head on. It addresses society’s perception of black women because of our skin color, attire and taste in music. En Vogue has gone through the typical girl group saga, break-ups, new members, etc. but we’ll always have the music.

“I wear tight clothing, high heeled shoes
It doesn't mean that I'm a prostitute, no no
I like rap music, wear hip hop clothes
That doesn't mean that I'm out sellin' dope no no”

I kind of feel sorry for the girls growing up in this generation. There are literally only a handful of few girl groups and acts working today. It’s nothing like growing up with Salt N’ Pepa, Queen Latifah, En Vogue, TLC, Janet Jackson, the Spice Girls and so many other groups. Hopefully the tide will turn and we’ll have more women representing girl power. But for now, please pay a sickening tribute to the greats.

What are some of the songs that led you to embrace feminism?

Veronica Hilbring is a writer and feminist living in Chicago.

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